Law of diminishing returns starting to kick in with ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ (Movie review)

The “Paranormal Activity” franchise continues to deliver the expected goods — scares or laughs, depending on your mindset — in its fourth entry. But like the “Saw” series that used to dominate October, the law of diminishing returns naturally factors in a bit more each year. “Paranormal Activity” was spoofed by “The Simpsons” in a “Treehouse of Horror” installment (“Un-Normal Activity”) a couple weeks ago and even the filmmakers seem to sense the formula is wearing thin — this one jumps into the action much more quickly than previous installments.

Because it cuts to the chase faster and has no long stretches of boredom, one could argue that “PA4” is actually the best entry. But, of course, no one looks at the series that way, and indeed, it seems audiences are tiring of the saga — the IMDB rating for this installment is hovering below 5.

The protagonists, teenage couple Alex (Kathryn Newton) and Ben (Matt Shively), are likable enough. Always willing to speak his mind, Ben almost provides the humorous spark that the techie guy did in the last installment. We also get a couple of 6-year-old kids, Robbie and Wyatt, who just might have a connection to Katie Featherston’s villainous Katie. Alex’s parents are around, too.

“PA4” serves up two fresh gimmicks. First, Alex obsessively uses her video-chat computer program to talk to Ben, even carrying her laptop around the house with her. Naturally, the background always features a few open doors that something could possibly jump through.

Second, we see what the living room looks like when the lights are off but the sensors from the Xbox Kinect system are still active. In what probably isn’t a scientifically accurate conceit, the sensors pick up not only the humans in the room, but also … other things.

From a perspective of character motivation, “PA4” doesn’t make much sense. Once you see the (respectably scary) ending, you’ll wonder about the logic of all the scares leading up to it. Then again, that might’ve been a problem with previous entries, too. It’s just that I’m only now starting to notice the cracks in the foundation. And indeed, I have to admit that the previews for “The Bay,” the new faux-found-footage film from “PA” creator Oren Peli, looked fresher than this film.

What are your thoughts on “Paranormal Activity 4?” Has the saga reached the point of diminishing returns or are you still digging it? Share your comments below.